Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with local expert Dr. Deborah Wood.
Doing It All
Dear Dr. Debbie,
I think I’m married to a man from the past. He’s grumbling about my being away for two nights for a church trip. We have two children, a very competent and compliant seven-year-old daughter and an adorable almost two-year-old son. I’m back at work full time, and am active in a theater group at church (hence the trip) but the lion’s share of the housework and the children’s needs still fall on me.
How can I make him see that it is only fair that he step up to do to what other dads in the twenty-first century are expected to do?
Dear Super Mom,
I’m guessing your husband’s dad was typical of married men the last century – providing for his family by bringing home enough of a paycheck for Mom to stay at home in full charge of the childrearing and homemaking. Meanwhile, since at least the early 1980s, girls have been raised with the expectation that they will have a career. Slowly boys and men are seeing models of fathers who take a more active role on the home front. Those leading the way have had encouragement and expectations from their wives to take on the tasks that men in the past did not have to take on.
Your impending trip may be the opportunity he needs to figure out how to handle the children and the house on his own. Plan a discussion to help him understand how important it is for him to share the responsibilities at home. Here are some talking points:
Role Models: The children are watching both of you. You represent a loving mother and a career woman who also participates actively in a spiritual/social life through church. He has a chance to represent not only a loving father (more pointers on this) but a true marriage partner – supporting his wife’s interests outside the family.
Easy Steps: As the expert on child care (don’t rub it in), you can handle as much advance preparation as necessary to ensure the children (and he) have all they need for eating, dressing, and recreation while you are away. If it makes sense, plan a get together for him and the children with another family – with their cooperation, this may take care of one of the meals for him!
Car Seats, etc.: Between now and your trip, promise him you will give him some practice with the car seat, diapering, and any other particulars with which he may be unfamiliar. Mastery of the car seat will prevent him from being housebound. Mastery of diapering will also enable the three of them to leave the house more easily.
Back Up: Leave him, as you would any babysitter, with enough contact information that if necessary, he could reach a close friend or neighbor, get medical or other advice, or take a child for an emergency medical visit. Let him know when you will likely be available by phone and when you will not.
The Important Stuff: Now is a good time to ask him about how he wants his children to think of him as they grow up. A good relationship is based on time together well spent. What kind of father does he want his son to become? What kind of husband does he want his daughter to look for?
Maybe he has hobbies and interests that you don’t have that he can share while you are away. Most of us can recall some special times and traditions with our fathers that impressed us with their love for us. Mine include walks in the woods. My husband shared fishing with our children – even helped our daughter’s Girl Scout troop earn a Troop’s Own Fishing Badge. Maybe your children’s father wants to share music making with them or kicking a ball around in the yard. Many fathers find their niche in parenting through the tasks that have to be done anyway, such as house or car cleaning, and various kinds of shopping. Other fathers share time in the kitchen with their children, cooking or baking special things together. If you have some ideas – and child friendly community resources to suggest – you might help him visualize a new kind of Dad for him to be.
A Good Husband: Here is another important talking point. In every marriage, we are asked to do things out of our comfort zone because that is what our spouse needs of us. Recognize this is hard for him. Let him know how much his willingness to take charge for two days will mean to you. Promise to support his success to the best of your ability. As you travel life’s journey together, there will be other challenges to face. The best marriage partners rise to meet them.
Hoping for the best for all of you!
Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at firstname.lastname@example.org